Israel must extend its recently expired West Bank building moratorium if stalled peace talks with the Palestinian Authority can have any chance of resuming, the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said following a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday.
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The Comments by the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy came as she announced a surprise visit to Israel and the PA in what seemed as another last ditch attempt to put the recently stalled direct Mideast peace talks back on track.
Speaking following her meeting with Clinton in Washington, Ashton reiterated the importance she saw in extending Israel's settlement freeze, saying that "more than anything, we would like to see, of course, the moratorium on settlement building continue," adding she would like to "see the opportunity for President Abbas to stay in the talks and for them to move forward to a successful conclusion."
To work toward that end, Ashton said, parties will have to do what they can "to do our part in that, and also talking about the work weve been doing to support the building of the Palestinian state, which is an imperative if were going to see success as the outcome of the talks."
"For me, my focus for the rest of today and tomorrow is going to turn to the Middle East, Having been in discussion with the Secretary and with Senator Mitchell, I will travel overnight through Europe to the Middle East to have meetings with Senator Mitchell, President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Prime Minister Fayyad to see what we can do to support the efforts to keep the talks moving," the EU's foreign policy chief said.
Ashton's remarks came as U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Clinton, were engaged in intense efforts to find a solution to the crisis in the peace talks caused by the expiration earlier this week of Israel's ten-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.
Speaking during a meeting with U.S. Mideast envoy Mitchell on Wednesday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that he and his government are committed to reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
"There are many doubts and obstacles on the road to peace," Netanyahu said. "Everyone understands this, but the only way that it is certain we won't achieve peace is if we don't try to achieve peace. I am committed to peace and my government is committed to peace."
Mitchell was expected to discuss with Netanyahu an American proposal in which the U.S. would make certain guarantees to Israel on core issues in final status negotiations in exchange for Israel extending the settlement freeze for several months.
At this point, Netanyahu has reservations about the U.S. proposal.
"We are committed to achieving peace – a peace that will protect Israel's security and vital interests," Netanyahu told Mitchell. "We are committed to going down this route. I hope that the good talks that we've started with Abbas will continue to reach an agreement within a year."